With the July 31 trading deadline closing in, the pressure is on Mozeliak to get his team back in contention or face the consequences.
“I’ve always felt there was a little pressure on me,” he said Thursday before the start of the five-game Cubs-Cardinals series at Wrigley Field. “I understand success is important and it’s something that hopefully we begin to see.
“In terms of how I think about the next few weeks with the trading deadline, we’re just going to have to take that day by day. (We) can’t just make a knee-jerk reaction to say we did something.”
The Cardinals could be buyers or sellers, depending on where they stand in the race at the end of the month. Facing the first-place Cubs in eight of their first 11 games after the break gives the Cardinals a chance to get back into the thick of things. Of course, it also gives the Cubs a chance to put their foot on the Cardinals’ throat.
That makes this a big series despite what the calendar says.
“Anytime you overemphasize a series in the middle of a season, you can find yourself in trouble,” Mozeliak said. “But obviously five games in four days, there’s importance. The easiest way to always think about it is if you’re chasing (and) then ultimately beating the team you’re chasing, (it) helps.
“I definitely think this is an opportunity for us. Obviously we’ve been through some changes in the last few days, and hopefully we can make the most of it.”
It has been a hectic couple of weeks for the Cardinals, with the firing of Matheny and hitting coaches John Mabry and Bill Mueller, the Dexter Fowler episode and the general malaise that put the team in this position in the first place.
If the Cardinals do turn into sellers, they have some players who could bring back some decent prospects, including Marcel Ozuna and Michael Wacha, who become free agents after 2019, and even ace Carlos Martinez, who has a team-friendly contract with options through 2023.
“I don’t think we are ever going to be at the point of ‘sell,’ ” Mozeliak said. “That’s never how we look at the trade market anyway. We look at it as we have the ability to improve and win. Some years we’ve been able to accomplish it; some years we haven’t.
“Even if we weren’t playing well the next couple of weeks, I would not see it as just a pure sell-off. It’d just be an arbitrage.”
But if a franchise as popular as the Cubs can pull off a rebuild, certainly the Cardinals could execute one as well. Mozeliak said “that has never come up” in their strategy sessions over the last 10 days.
Still, they began the season with a $161 million payroll but are only two games above .500 and 7½ games out of first in the National League Central after the Cubs’ 9-6 victory Thursday and the Cardinals’ 18-5 triumph Friday.
Teams that underachieve often are forced to take drastic measures. I asked Mozeliak if it was inconceivable to think a rebuild could happen in St. Louis.
“I would agree — it’s probably inconceivable,” he said.
Because of the team’s winning history?
“Yeah, (but) I’d also say that I don’t feel we’re ‘that far away,’ ” he said.
So the Cards are one of those rare franchises that never would try to win by tearing down and building over?
“Well, I guess an easier way to say it is if you look at our model, with our fan support, trying to be irrelevant for a couple years just doesn’t seem smart,” Mozeliak said. “It’s not even something we’ve been internally debating.”
The Yankees executed a semi-rebuild in 2016, trading away pieces such as Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran for prospects and then adding the following winter, including re-signing Chapman.
“I just don’t know if we have those pieces,” Mozeliak said. “That’s very unique.”
It makes sense, and I’m not sure Cardinals fans could stomach a rebuild. They think of the current two-year absence from October baseball as a playoff drought.
Of course, one doesn’t know what a real drought is without having lived in Chicago. Come back after a couple of decades without a playoff team.
Then maybe we can talk.